When we think of innovation in today’s business world, one of the first companies that comes to mind is Apple. How can your small business innovate like Apple? It might be easier than you think.
Creating your own team of “geniuses” would be a good start. If you’ve ever been to an Apple store, you’ve probably visited the Genius Bar—the place where Apple experts share their knowledge to help you get the most from your Apple product. The idea behind the Apple Geniuses—that by learning from others, we can do more—applies to innovation as well. So how can you create and nurture your own in-house geniuses to help spur innovation? Here are four ideas.
Outside geniuses. Innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212 regularly invites thought leaders in a range of fields to speak at its informal lecture series, Genius Lunch. (The company recently started a website for Genius Lunch that shares some video content from each Genius’s talk and highlights key points.) As Fahrenheit 212 partner Marcus Oliver told Salon.com, the idea got its start informally, back when the company was still young enough that all the employees ate lunch together every day: “We were…curious people from myriad backgrounds [who saw] tremendous value in sharing our backgrounds with one another in a slightly more structured fashion.” Every Fahrenheit 212 employee is encouraged to invite the most interesting person he or she can find, from any discipline, to talk to the team informally over a Genius Lunch.
Inside geniuses. Often, innovation in a company stalls because team members don’t fully understand each other’s roles, duties and jobs. This can become especially problematic as your business grows beyond startup size. Encourage a more open-minded attitude by having employees talk about their areas of expertise. You’ll be surprised at how little, say, your parts department might understand about what marketing does, and vice versa. Having employees in various departments share what they do all day, the challenges their department is facing, and the problems they are trying to solve can be an eye-opening exercise for everyone on staff…and inspire some great innovative ideas.
Literary geniuses. Start a book group at your business. Biographies of great innovators (like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison) or successful business leaders can inspire your employees to think differently. So can books on innovation or dealing with change. Ask colleagues and friends for recommendations on good business books they’ve read. You can make the group voluntary or require attendance; meet once a month to discuss what everyone learned from that month’s title and what ideas it might spark for your business.
Customer geniuses. Have key customers or clients visit your team to talk about the challenges and issues in their business, the new trends in their industry, their competition and problems they are facing. As with your internal geniuses, you’ll find that sometimes just getting a clearer picture of how the client does things can inspire your employees to come up with new ideas for serving your customer better. Don’t limit the attendance to employees who directly work with the client—get all levels and departments involved. Often, the best ideas come from the least-expected sources.
How do you encourage genius in your business?